Self-realization as revealed in art, symbol & sacred text: Analytic psychology, Eastern philosophy, mystic practice
“Language, in its origin and essence, is simply a system of signs or symbols that denote real occurrences or their echo in the human soul.” (Carl Jung, para. 13)
In its origin and essence language is a mode of the soul. Jung echoes one of the earliest psychological texts, titled the Psychologia Empirica. Writing in 1732, Christian Wolff says:
“Thinking is an act of the soul whereby it becomes conscious of itself and of other things outside itself” (cited in Jung fn 2).
It is with the soul in mind that we begin our discussion of Jung’s Essay on Two Kinds of Thinking, addressing language from the perspective of the soul. Here, language is an act of the soul, whereby the soul becomes conscious of itself.
At origin, at basis, there is no thought, no language. Something is, but we cannot call it being or non-being, we cannot know it as full or empty. All we can fathom is that it is the ground of life: essential to life, yet unsayable, unspeakable. It, unfathomable, gives birth to soul.
Ground emerges into form, becoming the divine body of life. The divine body is the birth place of soul, the container or vessel for soul. Divinity and soul are first in unity; they are “indistinct” (Para. 23), like a baby in womb.
With time, the soul emerges out of primal unity into differentiation, initiating a process of individuation. The soul aims to become conscious of itself and others outside of itself. The soul seeks to know life, as the divine body of life. Language is a mode of the soul in communion with and about its mother world. Jung says:
“From time immemorial language has been directed outwards and used as a bridge, which has but a single purpose, namely that of communication. So long as we think directedly, we think for and speak to others” (para. 12).
In its emergent form the soul thinks for and speaks to the divine body. Language becomes a bridge between a soul and divine other. The soul realizes itself in dynamic communion: speaking, bridging, linking, and interweaving with the divine body of life.
The earliest form of language is one of pure imagination. Imagination offers a kaleidoscopic array of forms and images which expresses an emergent awareness. Through imagination the soul first becomes conscious of itself and of other things outside itself. Jung says:
“This creative urge explains the bewildering confusion, the kaleidoscopic changes and syncretistic regroupings, the continual rejuvenation, … We move into a world of fantasies which, untroubled by the outward course of things, well up from an inner source to produce an ever-changing succession of plastic or phantasmal forms.” (para. 24).
Imagination is an expression the soul’s subjective knowing– of its immediate relationality to the mother world in which it is contained. At the origins of life soul imagines the other; it dreams the other.
Where there is mother, there is also father. Mother and father are the archeaions of life: the archetypal unity of life. They give forth life through their divine play. Mother offers herself as ground, vessel, womb of soul; father offers himself as creative force, providing the potential for transformation and awareness of soul.
An aspect of the father principle is Logos. Logos is derived from the Greek verb legō, meaning “to count, tell, say, speak.” Logos offers a path to awareness through speech, insofar as we speak of the divine body of life. The soul next becomes aware of itself and others around it through a mythical language, through Logos. In the biblical tradition it is said: “The Word Became Flesh – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
When aligned with Logos, the soul begins to weave narrations and myths which speak to and of life and the soul’s relationship to life. Words become the “creative power” of the soul (para. 24, 176).The soul tells mythic stories of its relationship with the sacred other. A creative urge seeks to know the other, to speak of the other. Here, we are not only speaking of a relationship to the form of the other but to that which is essential in the other— unspeakable yet real. Jung says:
“The naive man of antiquity saw the sun as the great Father of heaven and earth and the moon as the fruitful Mother. Everything had its demon, was animated like a human being, or like his brothers the animals. Everything was conceived anthropomorphically or therimorphically, in the likeness of man or beast. Even the sun’s disk was given wings or little feet to illustrate its motion” (para 24)
Myth tells stories not only of the soul’s relationship to the divine body of life, but also of the process of becoming conscious within the world: “men go forth, and admire lofty mountains and broad seas, and roaring torrents” (cited in Jung fn. 21). The soul struggles to know itself and its world; myth tells of such struggles.
Through the creative power of the father principle, the soul performs the heroic task of becoming aware of itself– as subjectivity. The hero is a metaphor for individuation, for subjective awareness. Through mythic language the soul becomes conscious of itself as a separate and unique individual.
The heroic spirit is not inclined toward the “subterranean passages” of the mother (para.1). Nor is it inclined toward the inner world. The heroic spirit seeks mountain tops and vistas. The soul aligns with the transcendent aims of the spirit of logos, providing the potential for transformation and awareness within itself.
Heroic spirit seeks to know not only the mountain tops and vistas of the mother’s body, but also the heavenly realms and kingdoms of the father. Metaphysics reveals new ventures of the heroic spirit. Language becomes metaphysical: beyond the physical. Jung tells a story of the medieval metaphysician:
“The subjects he thought about were often unbelievably fantastic; for instance, it was debated how many angels could stand on the point of a needle, whether Christ could have performed his work of redemption had he come into the world in the shape of a pea, etc, etc. The fact that these problems could be posed at all-and the stock metaphysical problem of how to know the unknowable comes into this category-proves how peculiar the medieval mind must have been” (para 21).
With this metaphysical knowledge, the soul holds the potential to think of and speak to that which lies beyond the natural world. It has developed a metaphysical language to speak of the father realms. The soul achieves the capacity to think of and speak to the divine other. And, at the same time and on another level, something begins to go wrong.
Abstraction & Egoic Thought
Metaphysics brought with it abstraction. Abstraction takes that which is essential and turns it into a general idea or quality. Language transforms active, relational knowing into “a conceptual scheme” (Wundt, cited in Jung, fn 22), a kind of fixed “known”. Abstract language “designates… general concepts” (ibid). Such conceptual schemes and general concepts mirror a world. The are not real in and of themselves, but are mirrors of the real capable of being “applied in a uniform manner to the most varied problems” (ibid.)
Language shifts from a language of the soul to a system of abstractions– a copy system. Jodl makes this quite clear:
“Language is the register of tradition, the record of racial conquest , the deposit of all the gains made by the genius of individual. The social “copy-system” thus established reflects the judgmental processes of the race, and in turn becomes the training school of the judgment of new generations” (Jodl, cited in Jung, para 15).
The soul begins to transform through abstraction, knowing itself in abstract terms. Soul becomes an object to itself, a copy of itself, designating a general concept for itself. It calls itself ‘I’. The soul splits within itself: Mirroring itself through it own abstraction. The soul mirrors itself as ‘I’.
The Latin word for ‘I’ is ‘Ego.’ The ego’s abstraction creates a conceptual scheme about itself capable of being applied in a uniform manner, allowing it to adapt itself to a collective reality. Each soul surrenders its own subjectivity and becomes part of a social “copy-system.” It is only through the social copy system that one is able to achieve the aims and objectives of the will. Jung says:
“The ego is the subject of all successful attempts at adaptation so far as these are achieved by the will”(CW 9ii, para 11).
This shift towards adaptation effects a radical shift in the locus of control. The will becomes less a will of the soul, with its spiritual drives and instincts, and more a will of the ego. The soul’s speech sinks into the hidden recesses of the unconscious: the two forms of thinking are born. Jung says:
“We have, therefore, two kinds of thinking: directed thinking, and dreaming or fantasy-thinking. The former operates with speech elements for the purpose of communication, and is difficult and exhausting; the latter is effortless, working as it were spontaneously, with the contents ready to hand, and guided by unconscious motives. The one produces innovations and adaptation, copies reality, and tries to act upon it; the other turns away from reality, sets free subjective tendencies, and, as regards adaptation, is unproductive” (para. 20).
Speech expresses a split within the soul. The egoic mind speaks a language of abstraction, objectification, and adaptation. While the soul speaks a language of subjective reality, of dreams and imagination.
“Directed thinking… is manifestly an instrument of culture. And we shall not be wrong in saying that the tremendous work of education which past centuries have devoted to directed thinking, thereby forcing it to develop from the subjective, individual sphere to the objective, social sphere” (para. 21).
Directive thinking is adaptive because it is the key to all endeavor, to all enterprise. Jung’s essay on Two Kinds of Thinking shows that “the secret of cultural development is the mobility and disposability of psychic energy” (para. 17 ). Directive thinking allows mankind the ability to harness psychic energy for use and power. Here, power is mobilized as a capacity to enact “transformations of inanimate matter and to reproduce natural process artificially” (ibid). This in turn, allows mankind to gain “control of the forces of nature.” (ibid)
The rewards of such directive power are great: innovations, riches beyond measure, security, control. With such grand rewards people lose interest in the subjective soul, and resort to objectification of self in exchange for reward. Those with the greatest control over the forces of nature take the highest positions and garner the greatest reward. They are seen as God like, replacing the God image with their own.
The ego begins to regard itself as God like or as holding the potential to be God like. There is no longer a need to know a father God or mother world. Mankind becomes king to himself; mother world becomes mere matter to be controlled. Mankind begins to inhabit a kingdom of abstraction: language acts only as a mirror of the real. In such a kingdom, all beings are objects: mere copies.
The world becomes all hierarchy: the ones with the greatest control over the forces of nature are at the top and the ones with the least are at the bottom. Those in the middle try to identify themselves or otherwise align themselves with the Godlike status of those at the top. What better way to hold at bay the vulnerabilities and fragility of the soul than to identify oneself with greatness and strength, to repress the struggle and fragility of the soul.
Ego against soul
Egoic culture turns against the vulnerabilities and frailties of the soul. The ego knows the world through differentiation. “I” know “I” by defining what is “not I”. The ego exists in its world of division because of this “I” and “not I”.
The ego seeks to identify itself with that which is powerful and that which is perceived as invulnerable: The “I” is powerful and useful; the “not I” is not. The soul, from this viewpoint is seen as not only unproductive but pathological. In The Myth of Analysis, James Hillman shows that psychology is built on a premise that the soul is pathological. Hillman says:
“Freud’s Psychology, and Jung’s, and analysis itself all arise from the ontological ground of pathological imagination” (p. 172).
According to Hillman the aim of psychology is not study and knowledge of the soul, but instead knowledge of the ego. Hillman puts it quite succinctly: “psyche = mind, and mind = head” (p. 153) and he adds that this can be pushed one step further “head = ego” (ibid). When Hillman speaks of the ego, he is speaking of “the controlling and ordering organ” (ibid).
With its need for control and order, the ego rejects the soul, “calling it pejorative names” (Hillman P. 161). This act has dire consequences– we lose touch with the soul, with the soul’s knowing. While the ego may provide us temporary comfort and seeming control over nature, the soul provides us with a mode of knowing: deeper, more enduring.
In tragic irony, the ego’s “copy system” is a flailing fantasy system. While innovation and “control over the forces of nature” provide some relief from existential burden, it does not save us from ourselves. Nor can any identifications with power save us from ourselves.
Every move toward power and control is a move away from a sense of self, of soul, and soul is all that is durable and enduring. The soul has a will of its own (Kueple, cited in Jung para.17), it has its own aims and desires, and it is only though an alignment with these aims of soul that we can find the durable, the enduring, and even the eternal in this life.
While in his early works Carl Jung participated in the pathologizing of the imagination, his later works dialectically overcome this perspective. In The Myth of Analysis James Hillman says that Jung offers an “ontology of the soul.”
In this work Hillman goes on to call for psychology to reclaim the soul as its opus: “The opus in our field can be nothing else but the psyche itself” (p.21). An opus is a creative work, and Hillman wishes to reclaim the soul as the work of psychology. I agree with this assertion. And I also heed Hillman’s other warnings that the viewpoint of psychology has been one of pathologizing the soul. We may again lose the soul’s voice if we leave this task of reclamation to the field of psychology alone.
If we are going to reclaim the soul, then we need to move beyond domains and fields of professional expertise. The soul belongs to no one, and is the eminent domain of none. The soul extends beyond religious denomination, beyond career choice, beyond academia. It extends beyond culture itself. Every person has a soul and thus every person can contribute to the soul’s reclamation.
The Myth of Analysis: Three Essays in Archetypal Psychology by James Hillman- 1972
Symbols of Transformation by Carl Gustav Jung– 1912
Image- Louis Janmot, Poème de l’âme: L’Idéal